Update: The following organizations subsequently joined the statement, bringing the total of endorsing organizations to 22. Organizations: African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) Nigeria, The Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Planned Parenthood Global, and Defend Defenders/East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders.
(Nairobi) – The government of Tanzania should end its hostile rhetoric toward civil society groups and threats to obstruct their work, 18 national and international nongovernmental organizations said today. The comments have targeted groups helping pregnant girls finish their education and those working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender(LGBT) people.
The organizations shared the concerns raised in a joint statement by 25 Tanzanian organizations reaffirming their support for re-entry to school for adolescent mothers.
“Tanzania’s president and other top officials should be focusing on how to build the country by helping everyone complete their education and ending discrimination,” said Elin Martinez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Protecting people’s rights not only helps them and their families, but strengthens the whole country.”
Recent statements by government officials could have a chilling effect on the activities of affected organizations, the international groups said. On June 22, 2017, President John Magufuli stated, “As long as I’m president, no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school.” He said that young mothers could opt for vocational training or become entrepreneurs, but should not be permitted to pursue formal education in public schools. In the same speech, he made derogatory statements regarding same-sex relationships.
On June 25, Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba threatened to deregister organizations that challenged the president’s ban on schooling for pregnant girls and teen mothers, and to prosecute or deport anyone working to protect rights of LGBT people.
The government estimates that 30 out of every 100 girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy in 2015. Many schools routinely force girls to undergo pregnancy tests and expel girls who are found to be pregnant, give birth, or get married, bringing an early end to their formal education.
The recent statements by Magufuli and Nchemba contradict longstanding efforts by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and civil society organizations to develop re-entry guidelines to ensure that girls can go back to school after pregnancy. The ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (“Party of the Revolution”), in its 2015 election manifesto made a commitment to ensure girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy can continue their studies.